Burglary and Criminal Trespass in New Jersey

A person who commits burglary or trespass in New Jersey can face prison time and hefty fines. Learn more about these crimes and their penalties.

New Jersey prohibits unauthorized entry into a building or onto another's property through its burglary and trespass laws. Entry without permission can be charged with trespass. An unauthorized entry plus the intent to commit an offense can be charged with burglary, a more serious offense. This article will discuss the elements of these crimes and their penalties.

Burglary: Crime and Definitions

In the past, common law defined burglary as breaking and entering into a home at night with the intent to commit a felony inside. Today, almost all states—including New Jersey—have done away with most or all of these requirements.

In New Jersey, a person commits the crime of burglary by entering or remaining (in hiding or in secret) in a "structure" or a research facility without permission and with the intent to commit any offense (indictable or disorderly persons offense) inside. Below we'll flesh out these definitions and elements a bit more.

Definition of Structure

New Jersey's burglary law applies to structures, which includes any building, room, ship, vehicle, airplane, or any place adapted for sleeping or business. For example, any building such as a garage, shed, or storefront is a structure. Boats, cars, and trucks are also structures. Places such as a tent or yurt used for sleeping or business are also structures. The law does not require that a person actually be present in the structure for a burglary to occur.

Enter or Remain Without Permission

A defendant can enter or remain in a structure without permission in multiple ways.

Enter without permission. Any intrusion, however slight, into a structure without authorization constitutes an entry, such as pushing open an unlocked door or lifting up a window and reaching inside. The law also prohibits entry into a structure (such as a store) when it's not open to the public. Similarly, an entry without permission occurs when a non-employee enters into the attached warehouse, employee breakroom, manager's office, or any other part of the store that is not accessible to the public and does so without permission. A person who gains entry through deception also enters without permission. For example, a victim's invitation for the defendant to enter her hotel room did not constitute permission when the defendant falsely claimed to be an FBI agent.

Remain without permission. Remaining in a structure without permission occurs when the initial entry was permitted but the person secretly stays within the structure after that permission expires. For instance, say the offender enters a store during open business hours but then hides in the restrooms after closing time intending to steal high-end items from the store—this act would constitute remaining without permission.

Intent to Commit a Crime

In order to convict a person of burglary, the prosecuting attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant entered the structure with the intent to commit an offense inside. For example, a person who enters a vehicle to take a joyride (a crime) has committed burglary.

The defendant's illicit intention is generally determined by the circumstances. The prosecutor does not need to establish exactly what was going through the defendant's head. For instance, if someone runs from a police officer and breaks into a person's home to hide, it could be inferred that the person entered the house in order to elude the police, which is a crime.

The crime of burglary occurs as soon as the defendant enters the structure with the illicit intent, even if the intended crime or offense never occurs. If the intended crime is completed or attempted, the defendant could face those charges on top of the burglary charges.

Burglary: Penalties

New Jersey divides burglary offenses into two classifications. A person convicted of burglary will face a penalty for either a crime of the second or third degree depending on the circumstances involved.

Burglary is a crime of second degree if, in the course of committing a burglary, the offender:

  • inflicts (or attempts or threatens to inflict) bodily injury on anyone, or
  • is armed with or displays what appears to be a deadly weapon or an explosive.

A second-degree crime subjects the defendant to five to ten years of incarceration and a fine of up to $150,000.

In all other cases, burglary is a crime of the third degree. Such an offender faces incarceration for three to five years and a fine of up to $15,000.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:18-1, -2 (2020).)

Possession of Burglar Tools: Crime and Penalties

New Jersey, like many states, also criminalizes possessing or making any tool or implement designed or commonly used to force entry or commit theft. To be a crime, the person must make or possess the tool with the intent of using it to commit a crime or giving or selling it to someone else who intends to use it to commit a crime. The law also makes it a crime to publish instructions on how to use or make burglary tools.

Manufacturing such an instrument or publishing plans and instructions are crimes of the fourth degree punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Possessing burglar's tools is a disorderly persons offense, which carries penalties of up to six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:5-5, 2C:18-2; 2C:43-3, -6 (2020).)

Criminal Trespass: Crime and Penalties

Under New Jersey law, a person commits the crime of criminal trespass by unlawfully entering onto any property, including a structure, land, research facility, or a separately secured portion of a structure. Unlike burglary, criminal trespass does not require the offender to enter the property with the intent to commit a crime. The mere unauthorized entrance or remaining completes the crime.

The penalties for criminal trespass range from a petty disorderly persons offense to a crime of the fourth degree. The severity of punishment depends on the circumstances surrounding the crime.

Crime of the Fourth Degree

The law punishes trespass more severely if the structure is:

  • a school or a building on school property
  • a dwelling (where people sleep)
  • the secure portion of an airport
  • property owned by a utility company, or
  • a research facility, power facility, waste or water treatment facility, or any similar facility.

A defendant guilty of a crime of the fourth degree faces penalties of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Disorderly Persons Offense

Trespassing on most other structures constitutes a disorderly persons offense. A person guilty of this offense faces up to six months of incarceration and a $1,000 fine.

Petty Disorderly Persons Offense

The law considers a person who enters or remains in any place where notice against trespassing is given through verbal or other communication (such as a posted sign or fence) as a defiant trespasser. Defiant trespassing is a petty disorderly persons offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Defenses

The law allows for several affirmative defenses for criminal trespass:

  • the building was abandoned
  • the building was open to the public and the defendant did not go anywhere the public was not permitted, or
  • the defendant reasonably believed the owner (or some other person in charge) would have allowed the defendant into the building.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:18-3; 2C:43-3, -6, -8 (2020).)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with any crime in New Jersey, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can explain how your case is likely to fare in court, answer your questions, and help you decide the best way to proceed. Working with a knowledgeable attorney is the best way to protect your rights.

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